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14 Tips to improve the way you make metal jewelry

1. To determine if a piece of metal has been distorted during sawing, place 400-grit sandpaper flat on your work surface and sand both sides of the metal. If the sanding pattern is uneven, the metal isn’t flat, and some spots aren’t catching the sanding grain. Place the metal on a bench block and use a rawhide mallet to hammer it flat.

2. Bevel your edges to give your work a professional, finished nuance. This one detail will elevate your pieces immeasurably. Using an extra-fine Cratex wheel in a flex shaft, hold the wheel at a slight angle to the edge of your metal piece, and move the wheel around the piece’s perimeter. Then place the wheel flat against the edge the metal piece, and move the wheel along the perimeter until the edge has a mirror finish. For curved sections, use a bullet-shaped Cratex tip.

3. Preheating metal before fluxing it helps the flux to adhere evenly. If you’re using a flux with anti-firescale properties (I use Cupronil), fluxing the back of the piece protects it from firescale.
4. When you’re drying flux with a torch, do not allow the flame to touch the metal. Instead, heat the charcoal block; the heat will transfer from the block to the metal and dry the flux slowly. The dried flux acts like glue to hold the solder pallions in place. If the flux is heated too fast it will bubble, causing the solder to move or pop off. 

5. When you’re soldering a round surface to a flat surface (for example, round wire to square wire), file a flat section on the round wire where it contacts the square wire. A flush soldering surface makes it much easier to join.

6. When you’re using scrap wire to prop silver pieces during soldering, use scrap silver wire rather than copper wire. With such a small quantity, cost isn’t a consideration, and copper can act as a heat sink, drawing heat away from the join. 

7. One of the most common mistakes in soldering is using too much solder. Avoid this by making tiny pallions (thin squares) out of wire solder. Hammer the end of a piece of wire solder into a spoon shape. Sand the flattened end with 400-grit sandpaper to clean both sides. Use semiflush wire cutters to cut the flattened end into 0.5–1 mm pallions.
8. Pick the right soldering surface for your torch. A micro butane torch works best if you use a Solderite board for annealing and soldering. If you’re using a large butane torch or an acetylene torch, pair it with a charcoal block, which provides an atmosphere less likely to cause oxidation (firescale).

9. You can use bristle disks mounted in a flex shaft to remove traces of oxidation in tight spaces. 

10. If you’re not sure if your wire is fine or sterling silver, ball up one end. Sterling silver will blacken and form a pitted ball; fine silver will stay clean and bright and form an even, round ball. 

11. When you’re balling up the end of a sterling silver wire, dip the wire in flux; if you’re using fine-silver wire, you don’t need flux. If you’re balling up both ends of the wire, don’t ball up one to your desired size and then try to match it on the second end. It’s easier to match the ends if you heat one end a little, then the other, balling up each end gradually. 
12. Work-harden your ear wires, especially if you’re using fine silver. To straighten and work-harden a piece of wire, roll it between two bench blocks. Or, use pliers to hold one end of the wire, then grasp the other end with a second pair of pliers, and twist gently. Let the wire rest, then twist it again. Repeat a few times, and your ear wire will be much springier and more resilient than when you formed it. 
13. To work-harden an already-formed ear wire, lay the ear wire flat against a bench block, and use a chasing hammer to lightly forge the wire. Keep your hammer strikes light and use the rounded part of the face to avoid any nicks. 

14. Wrap a small piece of steel wool around a craft stick to remove any oxidation from the narrow edges of a metal piece and ear wires. Or, use fine-textured bristle disks in a flex shaft.
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